HOLDEN – Easter Island is best known for its giant stone statues, called Moai, that dot the coastline. Easter Island is more than 2,000 miles across the Pacific in all directions from any inhabited land. It is one of the most isolated places on Earth.
Easter Island has long been the subject of wonder and speculation. Where did its inhabitants come from? How and why did they carve and transport the massive statues which surround the island? What remains of this culture today, and what lessons can we learn from their legacy? These are fascinating mysteries and questions. David Zelz, who grew up in Bangor, pondered these mysteries for years.
Zelz’s father, Francis Zelz, served in the South Pacific in World War II. From hearing his father’s stories and reading the book “Mutiny on the Bounty,” David Zelz became interested in the South Pacific and its mysteries, including those of Easter Island.
Explorer Thor Heyerdahl thought the island’s inhabitants may have come from Peru, due to similarity in style of sculptures. Archaeological evidence, however, indicates that people from Polynesia colonized the island in about 400 A.D.
In adulthood, Zelz traveled to Easter Island. He had studied archeology and history in college and wanted to see it for himself. From Bangor, he traveled south 7,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, then flew 2,000 miles west to Easter Island.
Zelz saw that the island was made of volcanic rock, rising from deep water. It had no coral reefs surrounding it. He saw the enormous statues propped up along the edge of the island. He met many inhabitants of the island, who showed him around.
He saw that Easter Island did not look anything like the lush and beautiful South Pacific islands he had seen before. Easter Island was rocky and barren.
The most shocking sight made him drop his jaw as he turned a corner into the center of the volcano that formed the island. Many different sized statues were unfinished in the volcano, lying this way and that, heads in many directions, face up, face down, like enormous jackstraws. Perhaps the chaos symbolized the catastrophes that had happened.
Zelz will discuss the causes of several disasters that happened on Easter Island – overpopulation, deforestation, wars, diseases brought in from Europe and the slave trade. He also will talk about how its surviving inhabitants are now recovering from those disasters and working toward a better future.
He will give a slideshow presentation at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. An admission fee of $6 per person benefits the center. For more information, call 989-2591.